The Arrangement (An Alternative Love Romance)

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The Pursuit

Selene tried to resist Nick continued to show up at night and take her home. It became a routine that she slowly began to look forward to. Not that she expected it, in fact she was always ready to walk back home. Nick had a life of his own and something could come up. She’d learned to always be ready for something to come up and never fully allowed herself to depend on anyone. It hadn’t taken many hard lessons for her to take it to heart.

Some nights, Nick had taken to hanging around to chat after taking her home, and he often came in to talk to Paul while she was doing the paperwork under Paul’s watchful eyes. Every week he taught her something new, and Selene worked to absorb and perfect each new thing. Within a couple months, she was doing the entire end of day paperwork, then more. She began handling the orders for non-food items, keeping track of use and expenses.

All this work came with a modest raise that was speeding up her timetable for getting a proper apartment. With all the deposits and need to purchase all the materials needed for a place, she wanted to make sure she had enough padding to give her some leeway in case something came up or she overlooked something in her meticulous planning. While she was very detail-oriented, she also hadn’t ever had a proper place to live and knew she might not know she would need something that would be essential. She was also hoping to find something furnished, but knew that wasn’t always possible and the purchase of a few basic pieces of furniture might be necessary. There were enough second-hand and salvage stores she knew she could get all she would need for under a grand, but that wasn’t some small chunk of change. Not that she really needed a whole lot.

Today, she was doing the end of month paperwork. She’d come in in the afternoon and had spent the day with Paul guiding her as to what needed done, but leaving her alone to do what needed to be done. End of month always was a more complicated process with many steps involved to ensure everything was recorded correctly.

Nick had shown up a bit early tonight to talk to Paul. Since Selene was in the back, it was the perfect time to ask Paul a question. He’d found what he thought was the perfect show to take Selene to. A dwarf comedian, he’d watched some clips and found the guy hilarious and knew Selene would appreciate the man’s antics on stage. But, he needed to make sure that Selene would e available that night if she accepted. It had been so long since he’d dealt with the prospect of personal rejection, he was also seeking some assurance from his friend.

Paul took him to the bar to get Nick a drink, seeing the man was oddly nervous when he’d asked to speak with him. Once Nick swallowed the drink, he took a deep breath before speaking.

“So, I want to ask Selene to join me for a night at a comedy club. I found this great comedian and I think it’ll be a step forward so I can ask her to be my fake girlfriend,” he said hurriedly. “It’s on a Saturday night, next weekend. Do you think she can get it off if she says yes and do you think she’ll say yes?”

Paul would have laughed at his friend if he didn’t know how much this budding friendship had come to mean to Nick. He had noticed how his face lit up when he was talking to Selene and how relaxed he seemed to be around her. Paul suspected his friend’s feelings were growing deeper than even he realized.

“I would say she will likely be thrilled to go and I’ll give her the whole weekend if she decides she wants to go. She seems to like you well enough. She often comments on how nice you are and how much fun the rides back are,” he informed Nick, hoping to ease the man’s anxiety a bit. “From what I’ve seen, she even looks forward to seeing you when you show up.”

“Yeah,” Nick asked, looking hopeful. “She talks about me?”

Paul chuckled and eyed Nick with amusement. “My friend, you are acting like you’re asking out your first girlfriend, and you aren’t even trying to date her yet.”

Nick groaned and pushed his glass out. “You’re right. One more, but that’s it. I don’t know why I’m so damn nervous about this. It’s like it is something of major importance, instead of just taking a friend for a good time.”

Paul poured him another shot, trying to decide whether or not to say anything.

“Ok, Paul, I can hear you thinking. What is it,” Nick asked, cradling the refilled glass between his hands.

Paul nodded and met Nick’s eyes dead on. “Are you sure this is still a mission for friendship and the perfect fake girlfriend, Nick? From what I’ve seen, you look more like a man trying to win the gal’s heart than her friendship and trust.”

Nick frowned slightly before he shoved a hand through his hair. “I think so, but sometimes my mind goes in other directions. I think I just need to get laid and I’ll be ok, but then I just don’t want to do anything with anyone. It’s like they’ve all lost their appeal. I don’t understand it. I even went to the dungeon to hook up with a sub or two but I just couldn’t get into it and ended up leaving early.”

Paul shook his head slowly, putting the lid back on the bottle. He only carried it for Nick, so it was rarely used. “When did this start?”

Nick shrugged and swallowed the drink. “I don’t know. A couple months ago or so, maybe?”

“You mean, since you started taking Selene home?”

Nick thought about that for a few minutes. Paul watched the realization dawn on Nick’s face, then a variety of emotions crossed his face as he fully grasped what Paul had been eluding to. After a few moments, he shook his head.

“Yeah, it’s been since I met Selene, but maybe I’m just so focused on solving the one problem I can’t get the energy up to deal with the other.”

“Uh-huh,” Paul hummed in response. He wasn’t buying it.

“Paul, I can’t be getting all attached to Selene like that,” Nick said, almost panicked. “She’s almost 20 years younger than me! Besides, she’s so...”

“Unlike all the women you’ve dated in your past,” Paul questioned dryly. “Uninterested in your money? Genuinely interested in you as a person? Smart, hard-working, and fiercely independent? Kind, thoughtful, and considerate?”

Nick sat back and looked at his friend. “You make her sound so perfect.”

Paul snorted in response, putting the bottle away. “The girl has issues and secrets. She’s a long way from perfect. But,” Paul added as he turned back at Nick, “she’s exactly what I’ve told you you needed for years. Someone who’s truly decent and doesn’t want anything from you except for you. A person who can be a real friend and maybe more.”

Nick eyed Paul skeptically. “I thought you wanted me to not go in that direction with her? It was you that pointed out the age difference.”

Paul shrugged. “I’ve changed my mind. You have been different, happier, since you have been spending time with her. You have that spark in you again. It’s clear she’s good for you.”

Nick thought about this at length. While he might not have been aware of it, now that Paul had pointed it out, he realized it was true. He felt alive again and looked forward to taking his bike out at night. He hadn’t even ridden it in over a year before Selene had come along. Though, with that, the nights had seemed lonelier and thoughts of her invaded his thoughts during those hours alone.

Finally, he nodded. “You’re right. She has been good for me. The only downside is being at home at night. The place feels so empty.”

Paul offered an empathetic smile. “Then maybe you need to ask her sooner than later. You’ll both benefit from the arrangement and the two of you will help keep each other from feeling quite so lonely. Hopefully, anyway,” Paul added. “Go to the show and then hang out Sunday. Maybe offer her to crash at your place for the night. If nothing else, the two of you should have a good time and you’ll have a better idea of how you want to propose your idea to her.”

“Sounds like a good idea. Maybe I’ll ask her to plan for crashing at my place that night,” Nick decided, his anxiety fading a bit. “I can’t believe I’m so nervous about all of this.”

“Nick, you have never had to go out of your way to make friends before. You’ve always just let people come to you. This is a challenge you’ve never faced before, and I must say that I’m proud of you,” Paul told him. “This can’t be easy for you, but the best things take time and effort to get. Perhaps, just like she seems to be what you need, you will be what she needs, too.”

“Yeah,” Nick agreed with a troubled look spreading on his face. “She’s been hurt badly at some point. I don’t know how or who, but the more familiar I get with her, the more I notice there’s something more there.”

Paul hummed an agreement. “She hides it well, though. I’ve never heard her say anything at all, but I have noticed she won’t talk about her past beyond her job experience. Nothing about family, childhood, school… That makes it pretty clear there’s something bad back there somewhere. The question is: are you going to be able to handle it?”

Nick looked out the window and the darkness outside. He ran over possible scenarios in his mind. He couldn’t imagine what she went through, but the idea of someone hurting her only brought a pain to his chest.

“I may not know the best way, but the idea of someone hurting her makes me angry,” Nick admitted freely.

Paul nodded. “Then ask her, get to know her better, and figure things out. Just remember that she might not develop the feelings toward you that you seem to be building toward her, so don’t expect too much from her.”

The idea hadn’t even really occurred to him. He’d been so intent on both making sure she was perfect for what he needed and earning her trust that he’d overlooked the fact that she may not see him the way he saw her. These things had always been so easy before – people just flocked to him. Everyone wanted to be friends with the well-off, handsome boy he’d been and it had only continued the rest of his life. Not once had he ever really had to fight to have a relationship of any sort before. Yet, he surprisingly didn’t mind.

He was enjoying the chase.

“It’ll be fine,” Nick assured Paul. “I will accept it on her terms. I’m finding that I’ve been enjoying this so much that I’m just happy to have time with her. It may not lead to anything more, and I might want that later, but I think right now, I’m just going to enjoy it what I can get.”

“That’s a good way to go,” Paul responded with approval. “I have to admit, I like this side of you. Your life is usually forward at a dead run with very little slow build-up. It’s nice to see you slowing down and taking time to really know another person.”

“I have to say that I think that I’ve begun to find most people rather boring,” Nick admitted. “It’s just always the same parties, the same groups, the same conversations, fake smiles, and the who’s richer than who game.”

“My boy’s finally growing up,” Paul teased. “I never understood the appeal of all that.”

Nick looked at Paul a moment before he shrugged. “I think maybe it’s because it is expected. At first, it was exciting, but it just seems so routine these days. The only thing that seems to change are the decorations.”

Paul laughed, his eyes crinkling deeply at the corners. “I’ve thought that myself. It’s why Angie and I don’t go to those things. She has to drag me to the awards parties. I hate those things, too.”

“You always were the modest one,” Nick pointed out.

Paul shrugged. “What can I say? I am happy with my life and I don’t need the approval of others that aren’t close to me. It does help with business, though.”

“I don’t know if I ever told you, but I’ve always been envious of you. You have everything a man could want: a wife who is your soulmate in every sense of the world, your dream business, and a contentment with your life I can’t even begin to imagine.”

“You’ll get there, Nicholas,” Paul assured him confidently. “You’ve already hit a turning point. I think this is the first step toward better things for you, my friend.”

Nick chuckled at Paul’s eternal optimism. “I hope you’re right. I think it’s past time for things to change in my life.”

Paul looked up and nodded slightly. “She’s on her way now. Ask her before you leave.”

The first part of the statement was worded enough that Nick wasn’t sure if Paul was letting him know or if he meant something more by it. When he turned around, Selene was walking up to them, looking tired but pleased with herself. The smile that appeared brought one from Nick in response.

“Ok, Paul. I think I got everything. You’ll double check to make sure everything is right,” she asked as soon as she got within a few feet of the bar.

Paul nodded. “Of course. I don’t expect you to be perfect the first few times,” he told her as he accepted the stack of papers from her. He set them down and thumbed through them after giving Nick a meaningful look.

Nick caught on and turned back to Selene. “I was thinking; there’s this great show at a comedy club next weekend on Saturday. I was hoping you might come with me.”

Selene bit her lip, thinking about her financial situation and if she could afford the added expense, plus hours off. “How much would it cost?”

“Oh, it’s on me, Selene,” Nick assured her quickly. “After all, I am the one asking.”

“One second,” she answered him, glancing toward Paul. Selene walked over to him, then began whispering quietly to him. “He wants me to go somewhere with him next weekend, but we haven’t set the schedule yet,” Selene began.

“You can have the weekend off,” Paul answered immediately. “You two go and have some fun.”

Selene’s grin stretched almost ear to ear. “Thank you! I can make up the hours during the week, if you want.”

Paul chuckled. “I’ll take you up on that.”

Selene walked over to Nick and nodded. “Ok, you’re on.”

Nick felt a massive sense of relief. “That’s great! I was thinking we could crash at my place that night and watch some movies Sunday,” he told her as he picked up his leather jacket to pull it back on. “You can think about it, if you want.”

Selene grinned. “I will. Let me get my things and I’ll be ready to go.”

“I’ll be here waiting,” he assured her. As Selene walked off, Nick shot Paul a grateful look and a thumbs up. As usual, Paul’s advice was spot on.

Paul simply smirked before he began going over the paperwork in earnest. Nick walked over to wait by the door for Selene. While this was a 24 hour city, this part of town was relatively deserted at this time of night. Further downtown, the city would be hopping with the various clubs and late night events in full swing. He could see the traffic further down the road, practically as packed as the morning rush hour. It would be worse on the weekend, especially down the west side where the comedy club was, making him certain he didn’t want to drive that night. So, should they take a cab or should he hire a driver? He could get a limo and have cham… Nick sighed. That might just turn Selene off. He didn’t want to look like he was trying to show off. That might make her feel uncomfortable.

On the other hand, she was going to have to understand he wasn’t the average guy, either. Especially if he wanted her to go out with him to places where he often had to go. Was it too soon to start showing her what the advantages could be?

“You ok,” Selene asked, startling Nick out of his thoughts.

“Oh, yeah, I’m fine. I was just debating something,” Nick answered, shaking it off.

“Oh? You want to talk about it,” she asked as they walked out of the building. “I have been told I’m good for bouncing things off of or venting to.”

Nick looked at her with a mix of surprise and happiness. “Actually, yeah. I might. What time are you working tomorrow?”

“I’m off. I have some errands to run,” she told him. “Every other Thursday.”

“Maybe we can grab you some stuff and you can stay at mine tonight,” Nick offered boldly. “I’ve got a spare room, good alcohol, and a great entertainment system I hardly get much use of. I can take you around tomorrow whenever you’re ready.” He wasn’t sure where this was all coming from, but once it was said, all he could do was wait for her reaction.

Selene chewed on her lower lip a moment as she thought. Then, she nodded. “Ok. That sounds like a plan.”

“Great,” Nick responded with a heartfelt smile. “Let’s go get whatever you need.”

Once they were on the bike and on their way, Nick breathed a sigh of relief. Things were going really well. He hoped it wouldn’t be too much longer until he could make his offer without her outright rejecting him. Clearly, she trusted him enough to feel safe alone with him. Now he just needed to not fuck it up.

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